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3Republic of tbe

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THIRD DIVISION
HARRY L. GO, TONNY NGO,
JERRY NGO AND JANE GO,
Petitioners,
-versusTHE
PEOPLE
OF
THE
PHILIPPINES and HIGHDONE
COMPANY, LTD., ET AL.,
Respondents.

G.R. No. 185527


Present:
VELASCO, JR., J., Chairperson,
PERALTA,
ABAD,
MENDOZA, and
PERLAS-BERNABE, JJ

Promulgated:

18 July 2012

DECISION

PERLAS-BERNABE, J.:

The procedure for taking depositions in criminal cases recognizes the


prosecution's right to preserve testimonial evidence and prove its case
despite the unavailability of its witness. It cannot, however, give license to
prosecutorial

indifference or unseemly involvement in a prosecution

witness' absence from trial. To rule otherwise would effectively deprive the
accused of his fundamental right to be confronted with the witnesses against
him.

Decision

G.R. No. 185527

In this Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Revised


Rules of Court, petitioners seek to nullify and set aside the February 19,
2008 Decision1 and November 28, 2008 Resolution2 of the Court of Appeals
(CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 99383, which reversed the September 12, 2006
Order3 issued by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila, Branch 27 in
Civil Case No. 06-114844 and upheld the grant of the prosecutions motion
to take the testimony of a witness by oral depositions in Laos, Cambodia.

Petitioners Harry Go, Tonny Ngo, Jerry Ngo and Jane Go were
charged before the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) of Manila for Other
Deceits under Article 318 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) docketed as
Criminal Case No. 396447. The Information4 dated September 24, 2003,
later amended5 on September 14, 2004, reads:

That sometime in August 1996, in the City of


Manila, Philippines, the said accused, conspiring,
confederating together and helping one another, did then
and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously defraud
Highdone Company Ltd. Represented by Li Luen Ping, in
the following manner, to wit: all said accused, by means of
false manifestations and fraudulent representations which
they made to said Li Luen Ping to the effect that they have
chattels such as machinery, spare parts, equipment and raw
materials installed and fixed in the premises of BGB
Industrial Textile Mills Factory located in the Bataan
Export Processing Zone (BEPZ) in Mariveles, Bataan,
executed a Deed of Mortgage for a consideration of the
amount of $464,266.90 or its peso equivalent at
P20,892,010.50 more or less in favor of ML Resources and
Highdone Company Ltd. Representing that the said deed is
a FIRST MORTGAGE when in truth and in fact the
accused well knew that the same had been previously
encumbered, mortgaged and foreclosed by CHINA BANK
CORPORATION as early as September 1994 thereby
causing damage and prejudice to said HIGHDONE

1 Penned by Associate Justice Monina Arevalo-Zenarosa, with Presiding Justice Conrado M. Vasquez, Jr.
and Associate Justice Edgardo F. Sundiam, concurring; rollo, pp. 44-55.
2 Annex B of the Petition, id. at pp. 56-59.
3 Issued by Judge Teresa P. Soriaso, id. at pp. 136-142.
4 Annex C of the Petition, id. at pp. 60-61.
5 Annex D of the Petition, id. at pp. 62-63.

Decision

G.R. No. 185527

COMPANY LTD., in the said amount of $464,266.90 or its


peso equivalent at P20,892,010.50 more or less.

Upon arraignment, petitioners pleaded not guilty to the charge.

The prosecution's complaining witness, Li Luen Ping, a frail old


businessman from Laos, Cambodia, traveled from his home country back to
the Philippines in order to attend the hearing held on September 9, 2004.
However, trial dates were subsequently postponed due to his unavailability.

On October 13, 2005, the private prosecutor filed with the MeTC a
Motion to Take Oral Deposition6 of Li Luen Ping, alleging that he was
being treated for lung infection at the Cambodia Charity Hospital in Laos,
Cambodia and that, upon doctor's advice, he could not make the long travel
to the Philippines by reason of ill health.

Notwithstanding petitioners' Opposition,7 the MeTC granted8 the


motion after the prosecution complied with

the directive to submit a

Medical Certificate of Li Luen Ping. Petitioners sought its reconsideration


which the MeTC denied,9 prompting petitioners to file a Petition for
Certiorari10 before the RTC.

6
7
8
9
10

Annex E of the Petition, id. at pp. 64-66


Annex F of the Petition, id. at pp. 67-68.
Annex H of the Petition, id. at pp. 73-74.
Annex L of the Petition, id. at p. 90.
Annex M of the Petition, id. at pp. 92-112.

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G.R. No. 185527

On September 12, 2006, the RTC granted the petition and declared the
MeTC Orders null and void.11 The RTC held that Section 17, Rule 23 on the
taking of depositions of witnesses in civil cases cannot apply suppletorily to
the case since there is a specific provision in the Rules of Court with respect
to the taking of depositions of prosecution witnesses in criminal cases,
which is primarily intended to safeguard the constitutional rights of the
accused to meet the witness against him face to face.

Upon denial by the RTC of their motion for reconsideration through


an Order dated March 5, 2006,12 the prosecution elevated the case to the
CA.

On February 19, 2008, the CA promulgated the assailed Decision


which held that no grave abuse of discretion can be imputed upon the MeTC
for allowing the deposition-taking of the complaining witness Li Luen Ping
because no rule of procedure expressly disallows the taking of depositions
in criminal cases and that, in any case, petitioners would still have every
opportunity to cross-examine the complaining witness and make timely
objections during the taking of the oral deposition either through counsel or
through the consular officer who would be taking the deposition of the
witness.

On November 28, 2008, the CA denied petitioners' motion for


reconsideration. Hence, this petition alleging that
I.THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN NOT
FINDING THAT THE METROPOLITAN TRIAL
COURT INFRINGED THE CONSTITUTIONAL
RIGHT OF THE PETITIONERS TO A PUBLIC

11 RTC Order, Annex O of the Petition, id. at pp. 136-142.


12 Annex R of the Petition, id. at pp. 173-174.

Decision

G.R. No. 185527

TRIAL IN ALLOWING THE TAKING OF THE


DEPOSITION
OF
THE
COMPLAINING
WITNESS IN LAOS, CAMBODIA.
II.THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN NOT
FINDING THAT THE DEPOSITION TAKING OF
THE COMPLAINING WITNESS IN LAOS,
CAMBODIA IS AN INFRINGEMENT OF THE
CONSTITUTIONAL
RIGHT
OF
THE
PETITIONERS TO CONFRONT THE SAID
WITNESS FACE TO FACE.
III.THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN
SUSTAINING THE JUDICIAL LEGISLATION
COMMITTED BY THE METROPOLITAN TRIAL
COURT IN APPLYING THE RULES ON
DEPOSITION-TAKING IN CIVIL CASES TO
CRIMINAL CASES.
IV.THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN
LIMITING THE TRADITIONAL DEFINITION
OF
GRAVE
ABUSE
OF
DISCRETION,
OVERLOOKING THE ESTABLISHED RULE
THAT VIOLATION OF THE CONSTITUTION,
THE LAW OR JURISPRUDENCE SIMILARLY
COMES WITHIN THE PURVIEW OF GRAVE
ABUSE OF DISCRETION.

We rule in favor of petitioners.

The Procedure for Testimonial


Examination of an Unavailable
Prosecution Witness is Covered
Under Section 15, Rule 119.

The examination of witnesses must be done orally before a judge in


open court.13

This

is true especially in criminal cases where the

13 Section 1, Rule 132, Rules of Court.

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G.R. No. 185527

Constitution secures to the accused his right to a public trial and to meet the
witnessess against him face to face. The requirement is the safest and most
satisfactory method of investigating facts as it enables the judge to test the
witness' credibility through his manner and deportment while testifying.14 It
is not without exceptions, however, as the Rules of Court recognizes the
conditional examination of witnesses and the use of their depositions as
testimonial evidence in lieu of direct court testimony.

Even in criminal proceedings, there is no doubt as to the availability


of conditional examination of

witnesses both for the benefit of the

defense, as well as the prosecution. The Court's ruling in the case of Vda.
de Manguerra v. Risos15 explicitly states that

x x x As exceptions, Rule 23 to 28 of the Rules of


Court provide for the different modes of discovery that may
be resorted to by a party to an action. These rules are
adopted either to perpetuate the testimonies of witnesses or
as modes of discovery. In criminal proceedings, Sections
12, 13 and 15, Rule 119 of the Revised Rules of Criminal
Procedure, which took effect on December 1, 2000, allow
the conditional examination of both the defense and
prosecution witnesses. (Underscoring supplied)16

The procedure under Rule 23 to 28 of the Rules of Court allows the


taking of depositions in civil cases, either upon oral examination or written
interrogatories, before any judge, notary public or person authorized to
administer oaths at any time or place within the Philippines; or before any
Philippine consular official, commissioned officer or person authorized to

14 Francisco, R.J., Evidence, 1993 Edition, p. 437.


15 G.R. No. 152643, August 28, 2008, 563 SCRA 499.
16 Id. at pp. 506-507.

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G.R. No. 185527

administer oaths in a foreign state or country, with no additional


requirement except reasonable notice in writing to the other party.17

But for purposes of taking the deposition in criminal cases, more


particularly of a prosecution witness who would forseeably be unavailable
for trial, the testimonial examination should be made before the court, or at
least before the judge, where the case is pending as required by the clear
mandate of Section 15, Rule 119 of the Revised Rules of Criminal
Procedure. The pertinent provision reads thus:
SEC. 15. Examination of witness for the prosecution.
When it satisfactorily appears that a witness for the
prosecution is too sick or infirm to appear at the trial as
directed by the court, or has to leave the Philippines with
no definite date of returning, he may forthwith be
conditionally examined before the court where the case is
pending. Such examination, in the presence of the accused,
or in his absence after reasonable notice to attend the
examination has been served on him shall be conducted in
the same manner as an examination at the trial. Failure or
refusal of the accused to attend the examination after notice
shall be considered a waiver. The statement taken may be
admitted in behalf of or against the accused.

Since the conditional examination of a prosecution witness must take


place at no other place than the court where the case is pending, the RTC
properly nullified the MeTC's orders granting the motion to take the
deposition of Li Luen Ping before the Philippine consular official in Laos,
Cambodia. We quote with approval the RTC's ratiocination in this wise:
The condition of the private complainant being sick
and of advanced age falls within the provision of Section
15 Rule 119 of the Rules of Court. However, said rule
substantially provides that he should be conditionally
examined before the court where the case is pending. Thus,

17 Sections 1, 10, 11, 14 and 15, Rule 23, 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.

Decision

G.R. No. 185527

this Court concludes that the language of Section 15 Rule


119 must be interpreted to require the parties to present
testimony at the hearing through live witnesses, whose
demeanor and credibility can be evaluated by the judge
presiding at the hearing, rather than by means of
deposition. No where in the said rule permits the taking of
deposition outside the Philippines whether the deponent is
sick or not.18 (Underscoring supplied)

Certainly, to take the deposition of the prosecution witness elsewhere


and not before the very same court where the case is pending would not
only deprive a detained accused of his right to attend the proceedings but
also deprive the trial judge of the opportunity to observe the prosecution
witness' deportment and properly assess his credibility, which is especially
intolerable when the witness' testimony is crucial to the prosecution's case
against the accused. This is the import of the Court's ruling in Vda. de
Manguerra19 where we further declared that
While we recognize the prosecution's right to
preserve the testimony of its witness in order to prove its
case, we cannot disregard the rules which are designed
mainly for the protection of the accused's constitutional
rights. The giving of testimony during trial is the general
rule. The conditional examination of a witness outside of
the trial is only an exception, and as such, calls for a strict
construction of the rules.20 (Underscoring supplied)

It is argued that since the Rules of Civil Procedure is made explicitly


applicable in all cases, both civil

and criminal as well as special

proceedings, the deposition-taking before a Philippine consular official


under Rule 23 should be deemed allowable also under the circumstances.
However, the suggested suppletory application of Rule 23 in the testimonial
examination of an unavailable prosecution witness has been categorically
ruled out by the Court in the same case of Vda. de Manguerra, as follows:

18 RTC Order, rollo, pp. 138-139.


19 G.R. No. 152643, August 28, 2008, 563 SCRA 499.
20 Id. at p. 510.

Decision

G.R. No. 185527

It is true that Section 3, Rule 1 of the Rules of Court


provides that the rules of civil procedure apply to all
actions, civil or criminal, and special proceedings. In
effect, it says that the rules of civil procedure have
suppletory application to criminal cases. However, it is
likewise true that criminal proceedings are primarily
governed by the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure.
Considering that Rule 119 adequately and squarely covers
the situation in the instant case, we find no cogent reason to
apply Rule 23 suppletorily or otherwise. (Underscoring
supplied)

The Conditional Examination of a


Prosecution Witness Cannot Defeat
the Rights of the Accused to Public
Trial and Confrontation of Witnesses

The CA took a simplistic view on the use of depositions in criminal


cases and overlooked fundamental considerations no less than the
Constitution secures to the accused, i.e., the right to a public trial and the
right to confrontation of witnesses. Section 14(2), Article III of the
Constitution provides as follows:
Section 14. (1) x x x
(2) In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be
presumed innocent until the contrary is proved, and shall
enjoy the right to be heard by himself and counsel, to be
informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against
him, to have a speedy, impartial and public trial, to meet
the witnesses face to face, and to have compulsory process
to secure the attendance of witnesses and the production of
evidence in his behalf. However, after arraignment, trial
may proceed notwithstanding the absence of the accused
provided that he has been duly notified and his failure to
appear is unjustifiable. (Underscoring supplied)

Decision

10

G.R. No. 185527

In dismissing petitioners' apprehensions concerning the deprivation of


their constitutional rights to a public trial and confrontation, the CA opined
that petitioners would still be accorded the right to cross-examine the
deponent witness and raise their objections during the deposition-taking in
the same manner as in a regular court trial.

We disagree. There is a great deal of difference between the face-toface confrontation in a public criminal trial in the presence of the presiding
judge and the cross-examination of a witness in a foreign place outside the
courtroom in the absence of a trial judge. In the aptly cited case of People v.
Estenzo,21 the Court noted the uniqueness and significance of a witness
testifying in open court, thus:
The main and essential purpose of requiring a
witness to appear and testify orally at a trial is to secure for
the adverse party the opportunity of cross-examination.
The opponent, according to an eminent authority,
demands confrontation, not for the idle purpose of gazing
upon the witness, or of being gazed upon by him, but for
the purpose of cross examination which cannot be had
except by the direct and personal putting of questions and
obtaining immediate answers. There is also the advantage
of the witness before the judge, and it is this it enables
the judge as trier of facts to obtain the elusive and
incommunicable evidence of a witness' deportment while
testifying, and a certain subjective moral effect is produced
upon the witness. It is only when the witness testifies
orally that the judge may have a true idea of his
countenance, manner and expression, which may confirm
or detract from the weight of his testimony. Certainly, the
physical condition of the witness will reveal his capacity
for accurate observation and memory, and his deportment
and physiognomy will reveal clues to his character. These
can only be observed by the judge if the witness testifies
orally in court. x x x22 (Underscoring supplied)

21 No. L-41166, August 25, 1976, 72 SCRA 428


22 Id. at 432.

Decision

11

G.R. No. 185527

The right of confrontation, on the other hand, is held to apply


specifically to criminal proceedings and to have a twofold purpose: (1) to
afford the accused an opportunity to test the testimony of witnesses by
cross-examination, and (2) to allow the judge to observe the deportment of
witnesses.23

The Court explained in People v. Seneris24 that the

constitutional requirement insures that the witness will give his testimony
under oath, thus deterring lying by the threat of perjury charge; it forces the
witness to submit to cross-examination, a valuable instrument in exposing
falsehood and bringing out the truth; and it enables the court to observe the
demeanor of the witness and assess his credibility.25

As the right of confrontation is intended to secure the accused in the


right to be tried as far as facts provable by witnesses as meet him face to
face at the trial who give their testimony in his presence, and give to the
accused an opportunity of cross-examination,26 it is properly viewed as a
guarantee against the use of unreliable testimony in criminal trials. In the
American case of Crawford v. Washington,27 the US Supreme Court had
expounded on the procedural intent of the confrontation requirement, thus:
Where testimonial statements are involved, we do
not think the Framers meant to leave the Sixth
Amendment's [right to confront witness face to face]
protection to the vagaries of the rules of evidence, much
less to amorphous notions of reliability. Certainly, none
of the authorities discussed above acknowledges any
general reliability exception to the common-law rule.
Admitting statements deemed reliable by a judge is
fundamentally at odds with the right of confrontation. To
be sure, the Clause's ultimate goal is to ensure reliability of
evidence, but it is a procedural rather than a substantive

23 Bernas, J.G., The 1987 Constitution: A Commentary, 1996 Edition, p. 463, citing U.S. v. Anastacio, 6
Phil. 413, 416 (1906); U.S. v. Raymundo, 14 Phil. 416, 438 (1909); and U.S. v. Javier, 37 Phil. 449, 452
(1918).
24 No. L-48883, August 6, 1980, 99 SCRA 92.
25 Citing California v. Green, 339 US 157 (1970).
26 United States v. Javier, No. L-12990, January 21, 1918, 37 Phil. 449, citing Dowdell v. U.S., 22 US
325.
27 541 U.S. 26 (2004).

Decision

12

G.R. No. 185527

guarantee. It commands, not that evidence be reliable, but


that reliability be assessed in a particular manner: by
testing in the crucible of cross-examination. The Clause
thus reflects a judgment, not only about the desirability of
reliable evidence (a point on which there could be little
dissent), but about how reliability can best be determined.
(Underscoring supplied)

The Webb Ruling is Not on All Fours


with the Instant Case

The CA found the frail and infirm condition of the prosecution


witness as sufficient and compelling reason to uphold the MeTC Orders
granting the deposition-taking, following the ruling in the case of People v.
Webb28 that the taking of an unavailable witness' deposition is in the nature
of a discovery procedure the use of which is within the trial court's sound
discretion which needs only to be exercised in a reasonable manner and in
consonance with the spirit of the law.29

But the ruling in the cited case is not instantly applicable herein as the
factual settings are not similar. The accused in the Webb case had sought to
take the oral deposition of five defense witnesses before a Philippine
consular agent in lieu of presenting them as live witnesses, alleging that
they were all residents of the United States who could not be compelled by
subpoena to testify in court. The trial court denied the motion of the
accused but the CA differed and ordered the deposition taken. When the
matter was raised before this Court, we sustained the trial court's
disallowance of the deposition-taking on the limited ground that there was
no necessity for the procedure as the matter sought to be proved by way of

28 G.R. No. 132577, August 17, 1999, 312 SCRA 573.


29 CA Decision, rollo, p. 52.

Decision

13

G.R. No. 185527

deposition was considered merely corroborative of the evidence for the


defense.30

In this case, where it is the prosecution that seeks to depose the


complaining witness against the accused, the stringent procedure under
Section 15, Rule 119 cannot be ignored without violating the constitutional
rights of the accused to due process.

Finally, the Court takes note that prosecution witness Li Luen Ping
had managed to attend the initial trial proceedings before the MeTC of
Manila on September 9, 2004. At that time, Li Luen Ping's old age and
fragile constitution should have been unmistakably apparent and yet the
prosecution failed to act with zeal and foresight in having his deposition or
testimony taken before the MeTC pursuant to Section 15, Rule 119 of the
Revised Rules of Court. In fact, it should have been imperative for the
prosecution to have moved for the preservation of Li Luen Ping's testimony
at that first instance given the fact that the witness is a non-resident alien
who can leave the Philippines anytime without any definite date of return.
Obviously, the prosecution allowed its main witness to leave the court's
jurisdiction without availing of the court procedure intended to preserve the
testimony of such witness. The loss of its cause is attributable to no other
party.

Still, even after failing to secure Li Luen Ping's conditional


examination before the MeTC prior to said witness' becoming sick and
unavailable, the prosecution would capitalize upon its own failure by
pleading for a liberal application of the rules on depositions. It must be
emphasized that while the prosecution must provide the accused every

30 People v. Webb, supra note 25, at 592.

Decision

14

G.R. No. 185527

opportunity to take the deposition of witnesses that are material to his


defense in order to avoid charges of violating the right of the accused to
compulsory process, the State itself must resort to deposition-taking
sparingly if it is to guard against accusations of violating the right of the
accused to meet the witnesses against him face to face. Great care must be
observed in the taking and use of depositions of prosecution witnesses to
the end that no conviction of an accused will rely on ex parte affidavits and
..
31
depos1t10ns.

Thus, the CA ignored the procedure under the Revised Rules of


Criminal Procedure for taking the deposition of an unavailable prosecution
witness when it upheld the trial court's order allowing the deposition of
prosecution witness Li Luen Ping to take place in a venue other than the
court where the case is pending.

This was certainly grave abuse of

discretion.

WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby GRANTED.

The assailed

Decision dated February 19, 2008 and the Resolution dated November 28,
2008 of the Court of Appeals are REVERSED and SET ASIDE.
Accordingly, the Decision ofthe Regional Trial Court which disallowed the
deposition-taking in Laos, Cambodia is REINSTATED.

SO ORDERED.

ESTELA M. I}ERLAS-BERNABE
Associate Justice

31 See Cruz, 1., Constitutional Law, 1995 Edition, p. 324.

Decision

15

G.R. No. 185527

WE CONCUR:

PRESBITER

J. VELASCO, JR.

ROBERTO A. ABAD
Associate Justice

.
JOSE

ATTESTATION

I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in
consultation before the case was .assigned to the writer of the opinion of the
Court's Division.

PRESBITER J. VELASCO, JR.


Ass ciate Justice
Chairp son, Third Division

Decision

16

G.R. No. 185527

CERTIFICATION

I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached
in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of
the Court's Division.

ANTONIO T. CARPIO
Senior Associate Justice
(Per Section 12, R.A. 296,
The Judiciary Act of 1948, as amended)